LEWISTON — On Thursday, Beverly Robbins cried in despair. Friday, she cried with joy.
Hope Haven Gospel Mission got its Christmas miracle.
Hours after the Sun Journal published a story about the mission's desperate plea for help with its toy drive, readers flooded the mission with toys, gifts and more than $17,000 cash — far more than the $1,000 it had hoped for. Sixty-one children were at risk of being turned away. The mission now has enough to give presents to every child on its list, and it can set aside money for next year.
"We cannot believe what's going on," said Robbins, head of the Others Ministry, as volunteers sorted through piles of toys and donors continued to drop off more.
Hope Haven's annual toy drive began about 17 years ago to serve children up to age 17 from Lewiston-Auburn and the surrounding area. Parents apply for help, submitting wish lists along with their applications. The toy drive does its best to fulfill those wishes. When a wish can't be granted, the mission gives an available, age-appropriate gift.
Last year, Hope Haven received more than $4,000 in cash and donated gifts for its toy drive. This year, donations dropped in half. At the same time, the number of needy children nearly doubled, from 125 to more than 200.
Just a couple of days before Christmas, Robbins had 39 families — 61 children — she couldn't help.
"I've got people coming in constantly now, and I'm having to stop and tell them we don't have anything for them, and it's getting tough," she said Thursday. "Some of them are in tears. They're trying not to cry. They're looking like, 'Oh, Lord, what am I going to do now?'"
The mission posted an emergency plea for donations on its website, and a story about that plea appeared in Friday's Sun Journal. By 8 a.m. Friday, donors were streaming through Hope Haven's Lincoln Street door.
"Oh, my goodness, it has been nonstop all morning," Robbins said. "People have been bringing in donations, they've been bringing in money, things are going in over PayPal. I'm crying again!"
By early Friday afternoon, the mission's toy donation room had filled with games, toys, clothes and gifts, piled high on tables and spilling out of sacks. One woman and her family brought in five bags of toys, then stayed to volunteer.
"Her husband read about it in the paper and he called her and said, 'Isn't there something we could do?' So they brought their two little boys and we've got them at work," Robbins said.
Others have donated money, dropping off cash or donating online using PayPal. The toy drive had needed at least $1,000 to get gifts for the 61 children left on its list.
By 2 p.m., it had 17 times that amount.
Many donors didn't leave their names. They handed cash or a check to a volunteer and vanished.
"I just can't see kids go without Christmas; I just can't," said one man who pulled up in a pickup truck to hand Robbins money. "I remember what it was like when I was little and I want another kid to do the same."
His wish will be granted. Volunteers on Friday sorted and bagged presents for the 61 children left on the list — the kids who were nearly left out. Families will get those gifts Saturday, Christmas Eve.
"We don't even know how to start thanking people," Robbins said. "It's just tremendous."